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With Chief Ron Rasmussen still on administrative leave, a secretary on vacation and three other offices resigning, the Ephraim Police Department office was dark and quiet Tuesday.

 

Ephraim officers resign, accuse chief of negligence

Rasmussen to resume duty with full support of mayor, council

 

Suzanne Dean

Publisher

6-29-2017

 

EPHRAIM—All three of the rank-and-file police officers in Ephraim resigned Monday, saying they can no longer stand by silently in the face of “gross negligence going back decades” by Police Chief Ron Rasmussen.

The resignations came in a letter addressed to Mayor Richard Squire and the city council, and signed by Officers Larry Golding, Jared Hansen and Darren Pead. Collectively, the officers have been with department for nearly 35 years.

“We have lost all confidence in our chief, and in the city officials who are responsible now for a cover-up of epic proportions,” their letter states.

The letter said the resignations are effective at such time as Rasmussen, who is on administrative leave, is reinstated. But shortly after the letter was submitted, City Manager Brant Hanson said the city had accepted the resignations, effective immediately.

The Ephraim Police Department had consisted of seven employees. It included Chief Rasmussen; Sgt. Len Gasser, the direct supervisor of the resigning officers; the three officers; a part-time school resource officer and a secretary.

The departing officers covered about 75 percent of the patrol shifts in the city. In an email to the Messenger, Hanson said initially Rasmussen, who has been on administrative leave but who is scheduled to be reinstated Wednesday, and Gasser would cover 24-hour shifts.

“We have reached out to our part-time officers to assist when possible,” Hanson wrote. “The Sanpete Sheriff’s Office has agreed to provide increased protection in the city until new officers are hired to backfill the soon-to-be vacant positions.”

 

VIOLATES STANDARDS OF POLICE WORK

 

The officers’ resignation letter states for years, Rasmussen has violated the universally understood standards of police practice by failing to write or complete reports “for hundreds upon hundreds of calls for service.”

The letter also states the undocumented cases “involve crimes of every imaginable type and magnitude, to include serious felonies.” The letter implies that because the cases were not documented, they could not be prosecuted, and says that if they as officers or if any citizen engaged in a similar obstruction of justice, they could spend years, if not decades, in prison.

But in an interview with the Messenger on Monday, a few hours before the officers resigned, Hanson said an independent investigation by the Utah County Sheriff’s Office found otherwise. He said he’s not giving Rasmussen a pass. “Yes, absolutely, there are a high number of incomplete reports. That’s a concern to us.”

 

But, he said, when he and Squire met with one of the investigators, they asked, “Are there grounds for dismissal?” According to Hanson, the investigator replied, “I’m not going to tell you how to run your organization. It’s not criminal.”

If it were criminal, Hanson said, “We’d be having a whole different conversation.”

The three officers did not want to say much beyond their resignation letter. But after submitting the letter, they confirmed a few details about the sequence of events leading to the investigation of Rasmussen and his pending reinstatement.

Other information about the chronology of events came from Hanson. But the two sides had different interpretations of some of the discussions and encounters.

 

BROUGHT PROBLEMS UP TIME AND AGAIN

 

The officers said time and again, going back years, various Ephraim officers had raised the issue of Rasmussen’s pattern of failing to document cases with Sgt. Gasser, former city managers, the present city manager, mayors and city council members.

Two of the officers said they had raised the issue with Gasser and asked him to go with them to more senior city officials “dozens of times.” But no action was ever taken.

For his part, Hanson said, “The chain of command has not been followed. When there’s a problem on a job, the employee should go to his or her direct supervisor, and if the supervisor fails to act, you escalate it up to the next step.”

“If it had come to me three years ago from one of the officers, or even from the sergeant, I would have acted on it,” he said. “Why has it taken so long to bring the issue forward and now the officers want it resolved in three weeks?”

One of the officers said he had in fact discussed the problem of Rasmussen not completing reports with Hanson nearly 18 months ago. Hanson acknowledged that the reporting issue came up “but only in passing.” In the context, he said, he did not focus on it as a big issue.

Around the first of June, one of the officers found a section of Utah State Code addressing “official misconduct.” The law says that if a public official fails to perform a duty inherent in his or her job function, the official is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. The officer texted the code to Squire and Hanson.

“That’s when everything changed,” one of the officers said. Hanson was out of town, but the mayor met with the three officers away from city hall. The officers said he mainly listened. He told them he wanted to do what was best for all Ephraim citizens. He also asked whether they would be satisfied if Rasmussen were permitted to resign “with dignity.”

 

OFFICERS MEET WITH MAYOR

 

The officers indicated they believed Rasmussen’s conduct was criminal and a quiet resignation, with no exposure of what they viewed as his malfeasance, would not be acceptable.

On June 9, Hanson placed Rasmussen on paid administrative leave. At the time, Hanson told the Messenger that placing Rasmussen on leave did not necessarily imply he had done anything wrong.

On June 12, Hanson returned from out of town and met individually with each of the officers. The officers say he, too, asked if they would be satisfied if Rasmussen resigned with no fanfare.

On June 13, Hanson finalized arrangements for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office to conduct an independent internal investigation.

One of the officers said when he was interviewed, he told a Utah County investigator that to do a thorough, fair inquiry, including reviewing hundreds of cases where Rasmussen had failed to write reports, would take one and a half to two weeks.

Investigators arrived in Ephraim on June 19. Two days later, on June 21, the investigation appeared to be essentially over. An investigator gave a verbal report to a closed city council meeting.

 

WRITTEN REPORT TO COME

 

Hanson said Utah County is still working on a written report, which was to be presented to a closed city council meeting June 28 (after press time). Hanson said the report would contain data about Rasmussen cases and the frequency of reports being incomplete or missing.

Despite the weightiness of the matter, there was barely a quorum of the city council present at the June 21 closed meeting. Council members John Scott, Richard Wheeler and Alma Lund were present. Council members Tyler Alder and Margie Anderson were not present.

The group walked out of the closed meeting into a veritable demonstration of support for Rasmussen. Although nothing about Rasmussen was on the official agenda, nearly 70 people packed the city council chambers.

One of the citizens at the meeting was Rasmussen’s LDS bishop, who said, “I don’t think there is anybody more qualified to serve, and continue to serve, as police chief. I know he cares about his family. I know he cares about his faith, and he cares about the citizens of the community. So please reinstate him and get him two more officers.”

Gary Ramos, who is also in Rasmussen’s LDS ward, told about a grandson, who grew up in a tough neighborhood in California and came to Ephraim to attend Snow College. One night the grandson called and said, “Grandpa, I’ve done a bad thing.”

He said the next voice on the phone was Rasmussen saying the grandson was at a party he shouldn’t have participated in. But because he was less involved than some others, Rasmussen permitted Ramos to pick up the grandson, rather than taking the young man to jail.

“But he definitely wound up going to court,” Ramos said. “He lost his license for six months, did community service and never offended again.” Today Ramos’s grandson is a college graduate serving in the Navy.

Rasmussen’s wife, Tracey, enumerated some of Rasmussen’s administrative and community relations tasks, such as attending Major Crimes Task Force meetings, county law enforcement coordinating meetings, city supervisor meetings and city council.

According to Tracey, the chief has taught rape prevention classes at Snow College, recruits volunteer school crossing guards, reviews timecards and fingerprints people for court, in addition to covering shifts when officers take time off.

Chad Parry, public works director for the city, also supported the chief. “I started with Ron, a little before him, and I’ve worked with him for almost 30 years,” Parry said. “Through good, bad and tough decisions, I agree with everything that has been said about him tonight.”

 

RASMUSSEN TO BE REINSTATED

 

Two days later, on June 23, Hanson gave the Messenger a press release stating Rasmussen “would remain in his position with the stipulation that he receive additional leadership and management training, and draft a corrective action plan for how he will improve the department’s effectiveness moving forward.”

The release quotes Mayor Squire as saying, “Ephraim City fully supports Chief Rasmussen and the Police Department.”

Moreover, the release quotes Hanson as saying the chief is “a great asset to this community” whose contributions “go well beyond law enforcement.”

In the release, issued before the officer resignations, Hanson added, “I have complete trust and confidence in the chief and the entire Police Department to implement the new direction to improve the level of service provided to our residents.”

In the interview on Monday, just before the resignations, Hanson said the person at the top of any operation is responsible for the culture, and the culture in the Police Department was not positive.

“It’s just not,” Hanson said. “There’s a lot of frustration at all levels” among employees with other employees.

But he said it’s impossible to go back and fix everything that has happened over the past 20 years. The key now, he said, was to “find a path forward.”

 

PREFERRED INTERNAL SOLUTION

 

The city manager said he would have preferred to handle the whole matter internally, without an investigation, by bringing the department together, airing the problems and trying to get everyone to work together to fix them.

In the interview, Hanson reiterated his statement to other media that Rasmussen is overworked, which he said helps explains his laxity in completing reports.

“It’s not uncommon for him to work 80 hours per week,” Hanson said.

Hanson said Utah County investigators had corroborated that finding and had recommended additional staffing.

However, multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of Rasmussen’s work habits painted a polar opposite picture. They described Rasmussen as lazy, said he comes and goes as he pleases, works about 30 hours per week, spends much of his time socializing with the city staff or citizens and tries to avoid any difficult police work.

Questioned about the laziness allegations, Hanson said, “None of that has come up. I’ve never heard any of that…The allegations were incomplete reports. That’s all.”

Hanson added that as soon as the department is back up to full staffing, the chief will not cover any patrol shifts or do routine tasks such as acting as a school crossing guard.

 

NEW JOB DESCRIPTION

 

His job will include writing policies and procedures, oversight of the whole department and community relations.

“That’s one of the biggest needs in policing today…instilling trust in police officers. He’s great at that,” Hanson said.

But the resignation letter from officers said the city needs a chief who knows the job and gets it done.

“The city suggests that the chief is ‘overworked’ and that this somehow excuses the willful failure to undertake his responsibilities and the dereliction of duty which, had any of us done the same, would have resulted in our swift dismissal,” the letter states.

City officials need to replace Rasmussen “with a leader who will not shirk important responsibilities, one who will not make ridiculous excuses when so much is at stake,” the officers state in their letter.

They state that under their oath as police officers they are “morally, professionally and legally obligated” to “blow the whistle” on Rasmussen. To remain under the chief’s command, “is not an option.”

In the letter, the officers state they will not stay silent when others (which, they clarified, include victims of crime) are suffering “at the hands of incompetence on the one hand or malfeasance on other.”